Nick Hanauer


With a big tip of the hat to Charlie Pierce, let’s take a look at Nick Hanauer’s article in Politico: The Pitchforks Are Coming … For Us Plutocrats. Actually, the article itself is a pretty straight-forward pitch from one of our new overlords explaining that something needs to be done about rising inequality, because the people on the bottom are armed.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.

That’s not much more than a paraphrase of Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty. He goes on at length to argue for an increase in the minimum wage, which is a minimal step in the right direction; and winds up with more about pitchforks: “Dear 1%ers, many of our fellow citizens are starting to believe that capitalism itself is the problem.” Standard stuff. It’s the comments that make me thirsty, in the Piercean sense. As I write, there are 3786 comments, including the four posted while I reread the article. When you start writing for the internets, one of the first things your colleagues tell you is “Don’t read the comments”. I sort of like comments, because they give you a good idea of the things people think about, worry about, and how they think and worry. It’s hard to imagine how we can even talk to each other when you see just how poorly people read, how poorly they understand what they may or may not have read, and how imbued they are with foolish and dangerous ideas.

Far too many of the comments are paragraphs of unrelated sentences, with sentences of unrelated words. Here’s an example from someone self-identifying as Michael Ryan, with cut and pasted.

ITS THE IMMIGRATION STUPID. politicians run up massive debt to buy votes for low IQ minorities crony capitalists and every leftist crackpot idea that will generate a vote. as always happens when you dillute the money smart capitalists demand more money for things like oil real estate gold etc prices on everything from education medicine and construction rise called INFLATION which used to lead to the wage price spiral where wages had to rise because people would say hey boss its costing me more in gas and childcare than i earn so i cant take a job at that price.
THEN came the devils bargain between liberals and elites and capitalists which fixed this. MASSIVE THIRD WORLD IMMIGRATION DRIVES DOWN WAGES. they all like this cause we prole whites are way to uppity for the elites the liberals the corporations and the government so they elected a more submissive people with lower expectations, and came up with a clever way to keep the whites from protesting [FOR NOW]
If you complain youre a RACIST!!!!!!!!!!
so yes the pitch forks are coming and the elites liberals with their neo puritan PC ethos and Ecuadorean nannies will certainly get tossed but so will their liberal BOBO handmaidens and the third world immigrants. and yes you will call us racists but at a certain point we wont care
we dont owe the third world our country that we built we dont invade mexico and demand to be taught in english and get first shot at the best jobs we are not qualified for cause we are white or sue because we are offended at their national pride or religious convictions or ethnic solidarity. so multiculturalists if it gets really ugly undoing what you have wrought thats on you it was absurdly stupid idea

A bunch of commenters claim to be small business owners. They say they can’t afford to pay higher minimum wages because their competitors will keep their prices low. Apparently somehow their competition won’t be subject to the same minimum wage. But this argument at least makes some kind of sense in some settings, as Jared Bernstein discusses here.

And the self-identified “Vance” suggests that Hanauer voluntarily pay more taxes, as if that had anything to do with rising wealth inequality or income inequality.

Many of the comments are directed at immigration, claiming that the plutocrats allow immigration to keep down wages. Apparently they don’t see how that makes the plutocrats responsible for their own economic plight. They blame the immigrants instead of the people who benefit directly from the increased number of job-hunters.

Few readers understand that the genesis of Hanauer’s argument is that when inequality reaches some level, the result is either a repressive state or a revolution. The pitchforks reference might as well have been a French Revolution reference, or a reference to formerly Communist states. The few people who take this on directly agree with him. The self-identified makinthemagic tells us: “Good thing your side doesn’t believe in owning guns. But your opposition does.”

They don’t seem to recognize that the whole nature of his argument is that business can’t make money when too many people don’t have any. The few who recognize this point agree with it, or call him a Communist.

This isn’t just about snickering at the silliness of comments on the internets, and not even about the bizarre ideas that pass for arguments. It’s actually meant to raise a question: how is democracy supposed to work when so many people are so angry and hostile even to suggestions about change?